Be Happy

be happy“Our happiness or our unhappiness depends far more on the way we meet the events of life than on the nature of those events themselves.”~Wilhelm von Humboldt

“Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude.” ~Denis Waitley

“Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be”. ~Abraham Lincoln

“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.” ~Marcus Aurelius

“Respect yourself enough to walk away from anything that no longer serves you, grows you, or makes you happy.” ~Robert Tew


 sophrosyne. happiness“The moment you believe that happiness has to be deserved, you must toil forevermore to earn it. Ask yourself now: Do I deserve to be happy? Be careful how you answer this question, for there’s a catch. If you answer no, then no matter what you do, you will not accept much happiness. If you answer yes, you will have to fulfill all sorts of criteria (set by you) before you can be happy.

One of the greatest single steps you can take is to let go of the belief that happiness has to be deserved. You do not deserve happiness, you choose happiness. It is natural, unconditional, and freely available to all. Happiness happens, if you let it.” ~Robert Holden Happiness Now 


Does Yoga Make You Happy? by Colette Barry

 From: Waking Times

There’s no doubting that fact and most of our efforts are directed towards achieving that state of ultimate happiness, where everything is bright, cheery, and downright wonderful. But while living a lightening-paced busy life, we set up hurdles for our mind which obscure us from relishing the freedom in an unhindered state of happiness. As Rumi said,“Your task is not to seek for love but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built.”

You’ll be surprised and pleased to know that there are activities that you can incorporate in your daily routine which will help you achieve your ‘happy goals’. Now all you need is a starting point. I’m going to provide you that starting point that is pertaining to the topic: Yoga. Yes, Yoga makes us happier, and if you need a boost in the right direction, you’ll be glad to know that science is on our side now too. Research and medical studies have shown that Yoga can turn out be a metaphoric shoulder to cry on that will make you feel better andadvance towards a happy life.

The Scientific Fact That Yoga Makes You Happy

Yes, you’ve heard this before, but obviously you’ll need proof before you start investing your time and energy into a yoga regime. A recent study, conducted by researchers from Boston University’s Medical School, revealed that yoga protects our brain from depression attacks. Now, you’re probably wondering how they established this theory. Well, things are going to get a little ‘technical’ now. The study revealed that the levels of the amino acid GABA are higher in those who perform yoga, compared to those who don’t. GABA plays a very important role in determining the state of your mind. If the amount of GABA present in your system is high, you’ll automatically feel happier and relaxed. On the other hand, lower levels of GABA lead to a distressed and disturbed mind by causing conditions like depression and anxiety.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “We are as happy as we make up our minds to be.” Yoga is a truly wonderful exercise that leads to emotional development in the form of increased self awareness, and feelings of compassion and interconnection. By doing so it enables you to handle everything that you feel in a more mature manner. So, if you are feeling extremely negative, yoga will help you gather all that negative energy and convert it into something positive and beautiful. This will help you improve your life and tread towards a happier tomorrow in so many ways. Moreover, this battle against negativity will save you from certain physical ailments that are linked with negative emotions, such as anger and frustration. And obviously, it will make you look good too which will automatically make you grin every time you look at yourself in the mirror. Yoga away!

The Untapped Power Of Smiling by Ron Gutman

From Forbes.com

Recently I made an interesting discovery while running – a simple act that made a dramatic difference and helped carry me through the most challenging segments of long distance runs: smiling. This inspired me to embark on a journey that took me through neuroscience, anthropology, sociality and psychology to uncover the untapped powers of the smile.

I started my exploratory journey in California, with an intriguing UC Berkeley 30-year longitudinal study that examined the smiles of students in an old mona-lisa, smileyearbook, and measured their well-being and success throughout their lives. By measuring the smiles in the photographs the researchers were able to predict: how fulfilling and long lasting their marriages would be, how highly they would score on standardized tests of well-being and general happiness, and how inspiring they would be to others. The widest smilers consistently ranked highest in all of the above.

Even more surprising was a 2010 Wayne State University research project that examined the baseball cards photos of Major League players in 1952. The study found that the span of a player’s smile could actually predict the span of his life! Players who didn’t smile in their pictures lived an average of only 72.9 years, while players with beaming smiles lived an average of 79.9 years.

Continuing my journey, I learned that we’re part of a naturally smiling species, that we can use our smiling powers to positively impact almost any social situation, and that smiling is really good for us.

Surprisingly, we’re actually born smiling. 3-D ultrasound technology now shows that developing babies appear to smile even in the womb. After they’re born, babies continue to smile (initially mostly in their sleep) and even blind babies smile in response to the sound of the human voice.

A smile is also one of the most basic, biologically uniform expressions of all humans. Paul Ekman (the world’s leading expert on facial expressions) discovered that smiles are cross-cultural and have the same meaning in different societies. In studies he conducted in Papua New Guinea, Ekman found that members of the Fore tribe (who were completely disconnected from Western culture and were also known for their unusual cannibalism rituals) attributed smiles to descriptions of situations in the same way you and I would.

smiley-faceSmiling is not just a universal means of communicating, it’s also a frequent one. More than 30% of us smile more than 20 times a day and less than 14% of us smile less than 5 times a day. In fact, those with the greatest superpowers are actually children, who smile as many as 400 times per day!

Have you ever wondered why being around children who smile frequently makes you smile more often? Two studies from 2002 and 2011 at Uppsala University in Sweden confirmed that other people’s smiles actually suppress the control we usually have over our facial muscles, compelling us to smile. They also showed that it’s very difficult to frown when looking at someone who smiles.

Why? Because smiling is evolutionarily contagious and we have a subconscious innate drive to smile when we see one. This occurs even among strangers when we have no intention to connect or affiliate with the other person. Mimicking a smile and experiencing it physically helps us interpret how genuine a smile is, so that we can understand the real emotional state of the smiler.

In research performed at the University of Clermont-Ferrand in France, subjects were asked to interpret real vs. fake smiles, while holding a pencil in their mouths to repress the muscles that help us smile. Without the pencils in their mouths, subjects were excellent judges, but with the pencils (when they could not mimic the smiles they saw), their judgment was impaired.

These findings would not have surprised Charles Darwin, who in addition to theorizing on evolution in The Origin of the Species, also developed the Facial Feedback Response Theory, which suggests that the act of smiling actually makes us feel better (rather than smiling being merely a result of feeling good).

This theory is supported by various recent studies, including research out of Echnische Universität in Munich Germany. In a 2009 study, scientists there used fMRI (Functional MRI) imaging to measure brain activity in regions of emotional processing in the brain before and after injecting Botox to suppress smiling muscles. The findings showed that facial feedback (such as imitating a smile) actually modifies the neural processing of emotional content in the brain, and concluded that our brain’s circuitry of emotion and happiness is activated when we smile!

Smiling stimulates our brain’s reward mechanisms in a way that even chocolate, a well-regarded pleasure-inducer, cannot match. In a study conducted in the UK (using an electromagnetic brain scan machine and heart-rate monitor to create “mood-boosting values” for various stimuli), British researchers found that one smile can provide the same level of brain stimulation as up to 2,000 chocolate bars; they also found that smiling can be as stimulating as receiving up to 16,000 Pounds Sterling in cash. That’s 25 grand a smile… it’s not bad…at 400 daily smiles quite a few children out there feel like Mark Zuckerberg every day!

And unlike lots of chocolate, lots of smiling can actually make you healthier. Smiling has documented therapeutic effects, and has been associated with: reduced stress hormone levels (like cortisol, adrenaline, and dopamine), increased health and mood enhancing hormone levels (like endorphins), and lowered blood pressure.

If that’s not enough, smiling also makes us look good in the eyes of others. A recent Penn State University study confirmed that when we smile we not only appear more likeable and courteous, but we’re actually perceived to be more competent.

So now we know that:

  • When you smile, you look good and feel good.
  • When others see you smile, they smile too.
  • When others smile, they look good and feel good, too.

mother-teresaPerhaps this is why Mother Teresa said: “I will never understand all the good that a simple smile can accomplish.” What’s the catch? Only that the smile you give has to be big, and genuine!

In my fascinating journey to uncover more about smiling, I discovered something far greater than just a way to get through a challenging run – I found a simple and surprisingly powerful way to significantly improve my own life and the lives of others.

So now, whenever you want to look great and competent, improve your marriage, or reduce your stress…or whenever you want to feel as good as when you’ve enjoyed a stack of high quality chocolate without incurring the caloric cost, or as if you randomly found 25 grand in the pocket of a jacket you hadn’t worn for ages…or when you want to tap into a superpower and help yourself and others live longer, healthier happier lives…SMILE 🙂

Ron Gutman is founder and CEO of HealthTap. He also serves as the Curator of TEDxSilicon Valley. This column was adopted from a presentation at the most recent TED conference. Below is his TED Talk (8 minutes long and REALLY WORTH WATCHING!)

 

 Seven Uplifting Strategies to Reawaken Your Joy and Passion for Life by Lauren E. Sullivan

If you are suffering from burnout, disappointment, or feeling stuck in a life that’s not working for you, take heart! These seven stepping stones will guide you along an empowering path to renewed energy and zest for life.

  1. Shore up your energy for change. When you are feeling defeated, resist the urge to push yourself into action to fix your life. Instead, slow down and recharge your batteries. Acknowledge that your resources have been drained by the stress of a life chronically out of whack. Give yourself a nurturing gift by making a conscious choice to rejuvenate your body, mind and spirit. Embarking on a big change when you are depleted of energy and enthusiasm may get you somewhere, but probably not where you really want to go.
  2. Resurrect the dreams you left behind. Spend some quality time alone with your thoughts and a journal. Write about your needs, your desires and your dreams. Take a trip down memory lane and remember the things that used to bring a smile to your face, the things you enjoyed when you were younger and life was simpler. What were your hopes for the future? What is your highest aspiration for your life now? If there were no obstacles, what would you be doing with your life?
  3. Conquer your inner critic and limiting beliefs. Beware of the ugly inner critic that wants to nip this “flight of fantasy’ thing in the bud. Pay attention to the negative, critical messages that stop you from taking steps in a new direction. Become an observer of your inner dialog and decide who you want in charge of your life: your inner critic or your inner coach? Allow your inner coach to expand your belief in what is possible.
  4. Find joy in the journey. Short-circuit the “I’ll be happy when…” syndrome by choosing to consciously dwell in positive thought and feeling. Make a choice to spend more time noticing what is right with your life and what is right with you rather than feeding the cycle of negativity by magnifying what seems to be wrong or missing from your life. Positive feelings such as gratitude, appreciation, love, and compassion for yourself and others will energize you and propel you toward a brighter future.
  5. Imagine you are already where you want to be. Spend time playing in your imagination. Not only is it okay to daydream, it’s a vital step in redesigning your life. Allow yourself to vividly imagine the life that would bring you the greatest joy and satisfaction. Then write about what you envision in clear, concise, emphatic, and energizing words. An empowering vision for your future will lift you out of the doldrums and into action!
  6. Create an inspiring life plan. Support your vision with a detailed plan for your new life. What needs to change in order for you to experience a rich and robust quality of life? Look at each aspect of your life that is important to you and make a conscious decision to fill in those missing pieces. Declare your intentions in writing, and then make a commitment to take action to carry out your plan.
  7. Navigate the bumps in the road. Allow for imperfections! If things do not go as planned, or if something comes out of left field to knock you off track, let it be. Tend to the crisis or detour, but hold onto your vision. The path between where you are and where you want to be may not unfold in a straight line. Look for the gift in the situation and get back on track as soon as you can. Persistence and patience are important keys to transforming your life.

Celebrate every baby step along the way, because in time, each step will add up to a giant leap. And

before you know it, your dreams will have become your new reality!

About the Author
Lauren E. Sullivan is the author of Give Wings to Your Dreams: Reawaken Your Joy and Passion for Life. Website: www.InspiredLifeDesign.com

10 Ways to Be Happier By Gretchen Rubin


1. Don’t start with profundities. When I began my Happiness Project, I realized pretty quickly that, rather than jumping in with lengthy daily meditation or answering deep questions of self-identity, I should start with the basics, like going to sleep at a decent hour and not letting myself get too hungry. Science backs this up; these two factors have a big impact on happiness.

2. Do let the sun go down on anger. I had always scrupulously aired every irritation as soon as possible, to make sure I vented all bad feelings before bedtime. Studies show, however, that the notion of anger catharsis is poppycock. Expressing anger related to minor, fleeting annoyances just amplifies bad feelings, while not expressing anger often allows it to dissipate.

3. Fake it till you feel it. Feelings follow actions. If I’m feeling low, I deliberately act cheery, and I find myself actually feeling happier. If I’m feeling angry at someone, I do something thoughtful for her and my feelings toward her soften. This strategy is uncannily effective.

4. Realize that anything worth doing is worth doing badly. Challenge and novelty are key elements of happiness. The brain is stimulated by surprise, and successfully dealing with an unexpected situation gives a powerful sense of satisfaction. People who do new things―learn a game, travel to unfamiliar places―are happier than people who stick to familiar activities that they already do well. I often remind myself to “Enjoy the fun of failure” and tackle some daunting goal.

5. Don’t treat the blues with a “treat.” Often the things I choose as “treats” aren’t good for me. The pleasure lasts a minute, but then feelings of guilt and loss of control and other negative consequences deepen the lousiness of the day. While it’s easy to think, I’ll feel good after I have a few glasses of wine…a pint of ice cream…a cigarette…a new pair of jeans, it’s worth pausing to ask whether this will truly make things better.

6. Buy some happiness. Our basic psychological needs include feeling loved, secure, and good at what we do. You also want to have a sense of control. Money doesn’t automatically fill these requirements, but it sure can help. I’ve learned to look for ways to spend money to stay in closer contact with my family and friends; to promote my health; to work more efficiently; to eliminate sources of irritation and marital conflict; to support important causes; and to have enlarging experiences. For example, when my sister got married, I splurged on a better digital camera. It was expensive, but it gave me a lot of happiness.

7. Don’t insist on the best. There are two types of decision makers. Satisficers (yes, satisficers) make a decision once their criteria are met. When they find the hotel or the pasta sauce that has the qualities they want, they’re satisfied. Maximizers want to make the best possible decision. Even if they see a bicycle or a backpack that meets their requirements, they can’t make a decision until they’ve examined every option. Satisficers tend to be happier than maximizers. Maximizers expend more time and energy reaching decisions, and they’re often anxious about their choices. Sometimes good enough is good enough.

8. Exercise to boost energy. I knew, intellectually, that this worked, but how often have I told myself, “I’m just too tired to go to the gym”? Exercise is one of the most dependable mood-boosters. Even a 10-minute walk can brighten my outlook.

9. Stop nagging. I knew my nagging wasn’t working particularly well, but I figured that if I stopped, my husband would never do a thing around the house. Wrong. If anything, more work got done. Plus, I got a surprisingly big happiness boost from quitting nagging. I hadn’t realized how shrewish and angry I had felt as a result of speaking like that. I replaced nagging with the following persuasive tools: wordless hints (for example, leaving a new lightbulb on the counter); using just one word (saying “Milk!” instead of talking on and on); not insisting that something be done on my schedule; and, most effective of all, doing a task myself. Why did I get to set the assignments?

10. Take action. Some people assume happiness is mostly a matter of inborn temperament: You’re born an Eeyore or a Tigger, and that’s that. Although it’s true that genetics play a big role, about 40 percent of your happiness level is within your control. Taking time to reflect, and making conscious steps to make your life happier, really does work. So use these tips to start your own Happiness Project. I promise it won’t take you a whole year. See full article here.

Where True Happiness Comes From: How We Gain by Having Less By Katy Cowan

“The things you own end up owning you. It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything.” ~Chuck Palahniuk

Small is the new big. That is to say, minimalism and living with less is becoming a growing movement in America and it’s starting to catch on over here in the UK too.

With the global economic crisis and changes in social attitudes, people are starting to realize that the more stuff we have, the more miserable and trapped we become. After all, stuff leads to debt, stress, and even increases our carbon footprint.

Plus, living in larger homes with space we don’t really need only equals more stuff, more spending, and more worry. Then, when we run out of space, we move to a bigger property—or even rent storage space.

Enough.

Stuff doesn’t make us happy. We might get that initial glow of excitement when we purchase new things, but it doesn’t last. 

True meaning and happiness come from experiences. From family and friends. From hobbies such as photography. It comes from the things that we do, rather than the things we own.

Like most people, I followed the American Dream. I wanted the big house and garden. The nice car. The expensive clothes. I also wanted to portray an air of success to “get ahead” in the business world.

As someone who runs their own business, there’s a perception that if you’re not moving along a certain path, you’re not considered to be successful. That if you don’t turn up to a meeting in a decent car or wearing expensive clothes, you won’t be taken seriously. That you’re not worth the money you’re charging.

I guess this perception of wealth extends to our self-worth and confidence. We feel more empowered if we’re attending a meeting wearing the right clothes and carrying the right handbag, for instance.

But then this false sentiment extends to our private lives, as well. We want our peers to think we’re successful. We’re embarrassed, for example, if we’re driving an old car or wearing last season’s fashions. We feel like we’re going backward rather than forward if we’re not “keeping up.”

Of course, it’s easy to fall into this trap—assuming that we really must drive expensive cars, wear designer clothes, and buy things we don’t really need.

It’s the way brands and big companies want us to feel. They want us to spend money, constantly consume, and place all our self-worth, confidence, and happiness on “stuff.”

They want us to be on an endless mission to be happy through consumption and spending. I’m just relieved I’ve worked this out now and discovered the truth.

Through my own endless pursuit to be happy and seemingly successful, I was miserable and constantly running on a treadmill to keep up with my excessive lifestyle. When I say excessive, it probably wouldn’t seem that way to others. Most people would see this typical way of life as pretty normal.

At some point though, it stopped being normal to us and we had a “Eureka!” moment. We realized that we didn’t need all that space, let alone all that stuff. So, we sold our big house, got rid of our expensive car, and started to think about minimal living.

What could we get by without? What did we really need anyway?

Well, we’ve just bought a 600 square foot apartment in the city. It’s got one bedroom, one bathroom, an open-plan living space, and a little balcony.

We’ve downsized our stuff and now only have what we need. Sure, there are a few luxuries but, for the most part, we’re a lot lighter than we used to be.

How do we feel? We have no debt, we have less stress, and we don’t have to work as hard to maintain our lifestyle. Because we live in such a small space, housework takes no time at all. And with no garden, we don’t spend hours maintaining a lawn or borders.

This means we have more time. And that time is dedicated to ourselves. To hobbies, experiences, and family and friends. We also have more money to spend on doing things like travel, concerts, or even French lessons.

Because of our new lifestyle, we’ve never been happier or more comfortable. Our lives are rich with meaningful experiences and relationships. And many others who are following this minimalist lifestyle are enjoying the same benefits.

I personally think the age of consuming could be coming to an end. It’s certainly starting to lose momentum. People are realizing there’s a big difference between “want” and “need.”

And with an increasing population and higher land prices, the future could be quite small compared to the way we live now. It might be that minimalism becomes a necessity rather than a lifestyle choice.

Do you feel like you’re weighed down by your things? Do you find yourself constantly working to pay for the expensive things you own? Are you lying awake at night stressed and worried about debt? 

Why not try a little minimalism? You don’t have to go to the extremes I’ve gone to. You could just downsize a few bits and bobs. Buy less stuff. Or even swap your car for a cheaper mode of transport?

And instead of spending money on things, why not invest in experiences? In relationships? In the times that set your soul on fire and make you jump for joy? Why not create those precious memories that have you grinning from ear to ear every time you recall them?

Because you know what they say: You can’t take it with you. But you can certainly be satisfied that you lived a wonderful life.

 Happiness in Your Life: Karma by Doe Zantamata

Karma, book, happiness

Karma – Book Preview

Karma is a word that most everyone has heard of, but few people
know the true meaning. It’s often mistakenly thought of as a punishment
and reward system, and is used as a curse on those who do bad things.
“You’d better watch out for Karma!” as if it’s a voodoo police force of the universe.

Karma is most importantly, understanding. It is neither good nor bad, just whole.

If a person does good deeds, helps others, and lives an honest life, they can still get whacked with “bad karma.” If that person does all those things, but then judges others who they say are evil, then they will soon find themselves on the opposite side of that fence. By judging someone negatively, one is actually asking the Universe for the understanding that made that person behave that way. Common examples are in traits that are misunderstood. If a person says another is too controlling, then pretty soon, they will be accused of the same. They may not even notice, because to them, they were only being helpful, or looking out for someone, but most certainly not being controlling! Only after the karmic shoe is on the other foot do they gain the insight as to why the person they judged seemed to be acting in a controlling way.

If a person condemns another for anything, Karma is sure to be around the corner.

What should be the reaction then, when someone does something that appears to be devoid of any good whatsoever?

The reaction should be positive, and if positive is not possible, then neutral. For example, if a person hears about someone who has run out on their family, they may immediately judge him or her to be a terrible person. If you say, “How could anyone be so terrible?” then you are literally asking the universe to show you how. Things may take a turn in your life to where you are overwhelmed and feel like running off, too. Why wish that on yourself by condeming another person? A better reaction would be to believe that the person must have been truly overwhelmed, and made a weak choice by abandoning the family. Hope that the person finds their conscience, comes to their senses, returns, and owns up to their responsibilities.

In the second reaction, you are wishing for a better life for that person, which in turn would lead to a better life for anyone that person comes in contact with as long as they live…and by default, you are wishing the same for yourself.


 10 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Incredibly Happy by Jeff Haden

It’s easy to think of happiness as a result, but happiness is also a driver.

1. Exercise: 7 Minutes Could Be Enough

Think exercise is something you don’t have time for? Think again. Check out the 7 minute workout mentioned in The New York Times. That’s a workout any of us can fit into our schedules.

Exercise has such a profound effect on our happiness and well-being that it is an effective strategy for overcoming depression. In a study cited in Shawn Achor’s book The Happiness Advantage, three groups of patients treated their depression with medication, exercise, or a combination of the two. The results of this study are surprising: Although all three groups experienced similar improvements in their happiness levels early on, the follow-up assessments proved to be radically different:

The groups were then tested six months later to assess their relapse rate. Of those who had taken the medication alone, 38 percent had slipped back into depression. Those in the combination group were doing only slightly better, with a 31 percent relapse rate. The biggest shock, though, came from the exercise group: Their relapse rate was only 9 percent.

You don’t have to be depressed to benefit from exercise, though. Exercise can help you relax, increase your brain power, and even improve your body image, even if you don’t lose any weight.

We’ve explored exercise in depth before, and looked at what it does to our brains, such as releasing proteins and endorphins that make us feel happier.

A study in the Journal of Health Psychology found that people who exercised felt better about their bodies even when they saw no physical changes:

Body weight, shape and body image were assessed in 16 males and 18 females before and after both 6 × 40 minutes exercising and 6 × 40 minutes reading. Over both conditions, body weight and shape did not change. Various aspects of body image, however, improved after exercise compared to before.

Yep: Even if your actual appearance doesn’t change, how you feel about your body does change.

2. Sleep More: You'll Be Less Sensitive to Negative Emotions

We know that sleep helps our body recover from the day and repair itself and that it helps us focus and be more productive. It turns out sleep is also important for happiness.

In NutureShock, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman explain how sleep affects positivity:

Negative stimuli get processed by the amygdala; positive or neutral memories gets processed by the hippocampus. Sleep deprivation hits the hippocampus harder than the amygdala. The result is that sleep-deprived people fail to recall pleasant memories yet recall gloomy memories just fine.

In one experiment by Walker, sleep-deprived college students tried to memorize a list of words. They could remember 81% of the words with a negative connotation, like “cancer.” But they could remember only 31% of the words with a positive or neutral connotation, like “sunshine” or “basket.”

The BPS Research Digest explores another study that proves sleep affects our sensitivity to negative emotions. Using a facial recognition task throughout the course of a day, researchers studied how sensitive participants were to positive and negative emotions. Those who worked through the afternoon without taking a nap became more sensitive to negative emotions like fear and anger.

Using a face recognition task, here we demonstrate an amplified reactivity to anger and fear emotions across the day, without sleep. However, an intervening nap blocked and even reversed this negative emotional reactivity to anger and fear while conversely enhancing ratings of positive (happy) expressions.

Of course, how well (and how long) you sleep will probably affect how you feel when you wake up, which can make a difference to your whole day.

Another study tested how employees’ moods when they started work in the morning affected their entire work day.

Researchers found that employees’ moods when they clocked in tended to affect how they felt the rest of the day. Early mood was linked to their perceptions of customers and to how they reacted to customers’ moods.

And most importantly to managers, employee mood had a clear impact on performance, including both how much work employees did and how well they did it.

3. Spend More Time With Friends/Family: Money Can't Buy You Happiness

Staying in touch with friends and family is one of the top five regrets of the dying.

If you want more evidence that time with friends is beneficial for you, research proves it can make you happier right now, too.

Social time is highly valuable when it comes to improving our happiness, even for introverts. Several studies have found that time spent with friends and family makes a big difference to how happy we feel.

I love the way Harvard happiness expert Daniel Gilbert explains it:

We are happy when we have family, we are happy when we have friends and almost all the other things we think make us happy are actually just ways of getting more family and friends.

George Vaillant is the director of a 72-year study of the lives of 268 men.

In an interview in the March 2008 newsletter to the Grant Study subjects, Vaillant was asked, “What have you learned from the Grant Study men?” Vaillant’s response: “That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”

He shared insights of the study with Joshua Wolf Shenk at The Atlantic on how men’s social connections made a difference to their overall happiness:

Men’s relationships at age 47, he found, predicted late-life adjustment better than any other variable. Good sibling relationships seem especially powerful: 93 percent of the men who were thriving at age 65 had been close to a brother or sister when younger.

In fact, a study published in the Journal of Socio-Economics states than your relationships are worth more than $100,000:

Using the British Household Panel Survey, I find that an increase in the level of social involvements is worth up to an extra £85,000 a year in terms of life satisfaction. Actual changes in income, on the other hand, buy very little happiness.

I think that last line is especially fascinating: Actual changes in income, on the other hand, buy very little happiness. So we could increase our annual income by hundreds of thousands of dollars and still not be as happy as we would if we increased the strength of our social relationships.

The Terman study, covered in The Longevity Project, found that relationships and how we help others were important factors in living long, happy lives:

We figured that if a Terman participant sincerely felt that he or she had friends and relatives to count on when having a hard time then that person would be healthier. Those who felt very loved and cared for, we predicted, would live the longest.

Surprise: our prediction was wrong… Beyond social network size, the clearest benefit of social relationships came from helping others. Those who helped their friends and neighbors, advising and caring for others, tended to live to old age.

4. Get Outside More: Happiness is Maximized at 57°

In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor recommends spending time in the fresh air to improve your happiness:

Making time to go outside on a nice day also delivers a huge advantage; one study found that spending 20 minutes outside in good weather not only boosted positive mood, but broadened thinking and improved working memory…

This is pretty good news for those of us who are worried about fitting new habits into our already-busy schedules. Twenty minutes is a short enough time to spend outside that you could fit it into your commute or even your lunch break.

A UK study from the University of Sussex also found that being outdoors made people happier:

Being outdoors, near the sea, on a warm, sunny weekend afternoon is the perfect spot for most. In fact, participants were found to be substantially happier outdoors in all natural environments than they were in urban environments.

The American Meteorological Society published research in 2011 that found current temperature has a bigger effect on our happiness than variables like wind speed and humidity, or even the average temperature over the course of a day. It also found that happiness is maximized at 57 degrees (13.9°C), so keep an eye on the weather forecast before heading outside for your 20 minutes of fresh air.

The connection between productivity and temperature is another topic we’ve talked about more here. It’s fascinating what a small change in temperature can do.

5. Help Others: 100 Hours a Year is the Magic Number

One of the most counterintuitive pieces of advice I found is that to make yourself feel happier, you should help others. In fact, 100 hours per year (or two hours per week) is the optimal time we should dedicate to helping others in order to enrich our lives.

If we go back to Shawn Achor’s book again, he says this about helping others:

…when researchers interviewed more than 150 people about their recent purchases, they found that money spent on activities–such as concerts and group dinners out–brought far more pleasure than material purchases like shoes, televisions, or expensive watches. Spending money on other people, called “prosocial spending,” also boosts happiness.

The Journal of Happiness Studies published a study that explored this very topic:

Participants recalled a previous purchase made for either themselves or someone else and then reported their happiness. Afterward, participants chose whether to spend a monetary windfall on themselves or someone else. Participants assigned to recall a purchase made for someone else reported feeling significantly happier immediately after this recollection; most importantly, the happier participants felt, the more likely they were to choose to spend a windfall on someone else in the near future.

So spending money on other people makes us happier than buying stuff for ourselves. But what about spending our time on other people?

A study of volunteering in Germany explored how volunteers were affected when their opportunities to help others were taken away:

Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall but before the German reunion, the first wave of data of the GSOEP was collected in East Germany. Volunteering was still widespread. Due to the shock of the reunion, a large portion of the infrastructure of volunteering (e.g. sports clubs associated with firms) collapsed and people randomly lost their opportunities for volunteering. Based on a comparison of the change in subjective well-being of these people and of people from the control group who had no change in their volunteer status, the hypothesis is supported that volunteering is rewarding in terms of higher life satisfaction.

In his book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, University of Pennsylvania professor Martin Seligman explains that helping others can improve our own lives:

…we scientists have found that doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we have tested.

6. Practice Smiling: Reduce Pain, Improve Mood, Think Better

Smiling can make us feel better, but it’s more effective when we back it up with positive thoughts, according to this study:

A new study led by a Michigan State University business scholar suggests customer-service workers who fake smile throughout the day worsen their mood and withdraw from work, affecting productivity. But workers who smile as a result of cultivating positive thoughts–such as a tropical vacation or a child’s recital–improve their mood and withdraw less.

Of course it’s important to practice “real smiles” where you use your eye sockets. (You’ve seen fake smiles that don’t reach the person’s eyes. Try it. Smile with just your mouth. Then smile naturally; your eyes narrow. There’s a huge difference in a fake smile and a genuine smile.)

According to PsyBlog, smiling can improve our attention and help us perform better on cognitive tasks:

Smiling makes us feel good which also increases our attentional flexibility and our ability to think holistically. When this idea was tested by Johnson et al. (2010), the results showed that participants who smiled performed better on attentional tasks which required seeing the whole forest rather than just the trees.

A smile is also a good way to reduce some of the pain we feel in troubling circumstances:

Smiling is one way to reduce the distress caused by an upsetting situation. Psychologists call this the facial feedback hypothesis. Even forcing a smile when we don’t feel like it is enough to lift our mood slightly (this is one example of embodied cognition).

7. Plan a Trip: It Helps Even if You Don't Actually Take One

As opposed to actually taking a holiday, simply planning a vacation or break from work can improve our happiness. A study published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life showed that the highest spike in happiness came during the planning stage of a vacation as people enjoy the sense of anticipation:

In the study, the effect of vacation anticipation boosted happiness for eight weeks. After the vacation, happiness quickly dropped back to baseline levels for most people.

Shawn Achor has some info for us on this point, as well:

One study found that people who just thought about watching their favorite movie actually raised their endorphin levels by 27 percent.

If you can’t take the time for a vacation right now, or even a night out with friends, put something on the calendar–even if it’s a month or a year down the road. Then, whenever you need a boost of happiness, remind yourself about it.

8. Meditate: Rewire Your Brain for Happiness

Meditation is often touted as an important habit for improving focus, clarity, and attention span, as well as helping to keep you calm. It turns out it’s also useful for improving your happiness:

In one study, a research team from Massachusetts General Hospital looked at the brain scans of 16 people before and after they participated in an eight-week course in mindfulness meditation. The study, published in the January issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, concluded that after completing the course, parts of the participants’ brains associated with compassion and self-awareness grew, and parts associated with stress shrank.

Meditation literally clears your mind and calms you down, it’s been often proven to be the single most effective way to live a happier life. According to Achor, meditation can actually make you happier long-term:

Studies show that in the minutes right after meditating, we experience feelings of calm and contentment, as well as heightened awareness and empathy. And, research even shows that regular meditation can permanently rewire the brain to raise levels of happiness.

The fact that we can actually alter our brain structure through mediation is most surprising to me and somewhat reassuring that however we feel and think today isn’t permanent.

9. Move Closer to Work: A Short Commute is Worth More Than a Big House

Our commute to work can have a surprisingly powerful impact on our happiness. The fact that we tend to commute twice a day at least five days a week makes it unsurprising that the effect would build up over time and make us less and less happy.

According to The Art of Manliness, having a long commute is something we often fail to realize will affect us so dramatically:

… while many voluntary conditions don’t affect our happiness in the long term because we acclimate to them, people never get accustomed to their daily slog to work because sometimes the traffic is awful and sometimes it’s not.

Or as Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert put it, “Driving in traffic is a different kind of hell every day.”

We tend to try to compensate for this by having a bigger house or a better job, but these compensations just don’t work:

Two Swiss economists who studied the effect of commuting on happiness found that such factors could not make up for the misery created by a long commute.

10. Practice Gratitude: Increase Happiness and Satisfaction

This is a seemingly simple strategy but I’ve personally found it to make a huge difference to my outlook. There are lots of ways to practice gratitude, from keeping a journal of things you’re grateful for, sharing three good things that happen each day with a friend or your partner, and going out of your way to show gratitude when others help you.

In an experiment where participants took note of things they were grateful for each day, their moods were improved just from this simple practice:

The gratitude-outlook groups exhibited heightened well-being across several, though not all, of the outcome measures across the three studies, relative to the comparison groups. The effect on positive affect appeared to be the most robust finding. Results suggest that a conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits.

The Journal of Happiness studies published a study that used letters of gratitude to test how being grateful can affect our levels of happiness:

Participants included 219 men and women who wrote three letters of gratitude over a 3 week period. Results indicated that writing letters of gratitude increased participants’ happiness and life satisfaction while decreasing depressive symptoms.

Quick Final Fact: Getting Older Will Actually Make You Happier

As we get older, particularly past middle age, we tend to naturally grow happier. There’s still some debate over why this happens, but scientists have a few ideas:

Researchers, including the authors, have found that older people shown pictures of faces or situations tend to focus on and remember the happier ones more and the negative ones less.

Other studies have discovered that as people age, they seek out situations that will lift their moods–for instance, pruning social circles of friends or acquaintances who might bring them down. Still other work finds that older adults learn to let go of loss and disappointment over unachieved goals, and focus their goals on greater well being.

So if you thought getting old will make you miserable, it’s likely you’ll develop a more positive outlook than you probably have now.

How cool is that?